Jack - Zhejiang University

B. Chinese

Academic experience

Each semester I was enrolled in four Mandarin classes. 
Sem 2, 2015: Listening class, Speaking class, General class, Reading class.
Sem 1, 2016: Writing class, Speaking class, General class, Reading class.

Personal experience

Typical day in Beijing!
Caption

Mainland China is an ideal place to learn simplified Mandarin Chinese. One year here is easily worth three years in Australia, as I witnessed many students progress from HSK1 to HSK5 in one year of immersive study here.

I will not sugar-coat what I'm about to tell you about Chinese culture and how mainland China really is like. First of all, do not believe the tourism advertisements - yes, the Great Wall is fantastic, but the advertisement does not show the massive crowds and litter everywhere. Yes, Westlake is a nice big lake, but the advertisements do not show the huge security presence, the smoking Mainlanders everywhere (53% of mainland Chinese males smoke, according to a 2008 poll), and the trash dumped in the lake.

If you do not look Chinese (particularly Han Chinese), you will be gawked at. Chinese people will talk about you in front of your face, expecting that you cannot understand them. When you walk past Chinese people some will call out "foreigner!". It's a strange experience.

Because the pollution can be, on a good day, at least 5 times worse than Brisbane (and on a bad day, up to around 20 times worse), there is a lot of spitting on the street, on the bus, on the subway, sometimes inside too. 

Traffic is chaotic, and traffic rules are largely unenforced. If the light is green for you to cross, still be very careful crossing the road, because many cars will just drive through. Most drivers have their phones perched next to their steering wheel, and are usually simultaneously driving and chatting on Wechat. 

In short, what is regarded as good manners and conduct in the West is not in Mainland China. There is a striking culture difference, and it really drives home the fact that Mainland China is still a developing country. You will learn to live in a developing country, and these skills may be beneficial when facing difficulties in Australia.

Accommodation

I lived in the university dorms. The campus is heavily guarded by security (although most of them doze-off for a nap around midnight) and is unlike any campus security we have in Australian universities. 
You will need to speak Chinese most of the time, as the staff members usually don't speak any English.
My room was comfortable, but I was sharing with another student. Single rooms are a shoe-box. Living outside is a good option, but many landlords don't accept foreigners, for various reasons.

Budget

Most things here are about four times cheaper than in Australia. This includes rent, food, entertainment, travel. Transport is extremely cheap, as only 2RMB (~$0.40) you can ride the bus as far as you wish, and the buses come very frequently about one every three minutes.

Professional development and employability

Glass bridge on a mountain
Glass bridge on a mountain

Language and international relations skills. 
This university generally has about 10-15 Australians in this course at any given time, and I was the only one from UQ, and two from QUT. Since it's like this, you will be sharing space with people from any country on Earth, including North Koreans - I had two in my class.

Highlight

Noticing an improvement in my language abilities was a big kick for me. Also forging international friendships has been fantastic.
I also fell in love here with my girlfriend from Thailand, so of course very happy about that!

Top tips

  • Before heading here, make sure you are coming for the right reasons: do not come to party.
  • You will be offered free drinks, free "VIP" seating in clubs, free this, free that, but you should remember that the promoters are only doing this to use you as an advertisement to attract Chinese people who actually pay for their drinks.
  • You should remember that this period where you're in China should be used to harbour your interest in Chinese language and/or culture.
  • Spend a semester or two here seriously studying, and you will surpass all of your classmates back home in a matter of weeks.
Jack - Zhejiang University